Published in ChemSusChem, researchers from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Côte d'Azur University conducted a mini review into the use of white biotechnology in perfumery – a branch of biotechnology devoted to use of living microorganisms and enzymes to synthesise products that were easily degradable, required less energy and created less waste; more eco-responsible and sustainable materials.
Findings showed that there had been “intense R&D activity” in the field with recent gains in “scope and complexity”. This had resulted in a raft of scientific publications and patent applications relating to state-of-the-art approaches in biocatalysis, metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, biosynthesis elucidation, gene edition and cloning, and analytical chemistry, they said.
Alternatives for patchouli, sandalwood, oakmoss absolute and vetiver essential oil were among a host of white biotech ingredients that had developed using such processes, they said.
‘Increasing demand for sustainable ingredients and processes’
“The implementation of biotech processes in [the] fragrance industry and the success of recent ingredient launches certainly indicate that the field will continue to grow in the future,” the researchers wrote in the mini review.
And the approaches used not only positively balanced the supply of raw materials, often produced in remote locations under various climatic and political pressures, but also complied with “the increasing demand for sustainable ingredients and processes”, they said.
Biocatalysis was particularly well-valued for being a “naturally sustainable” process, given it was performed in water, close to room temperature and with few by-products, they said.
For now, however, the researchers said most processes relating to the high-tech scientific manipulations of genes “seem to be reserved to large firms”, though this would mean that gene editing tools and kits for transfer, expression and purification should hopefully be widely available soon. Some smaller, specialised companies were also entering ventures with flavour and fragrance companies, they said.
GMO concerns ‘sensitive’ for some businesses
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), however, remained “sensitive” for certain companies, the researchers said, because some consumers were reluctant to use products obtained using GMOs. There was also the discussion that “accidentally liberated [GMOs] in the environment could have an uncontrolled impact on the ecosystem”, they said.
“This question will definitely impact the future of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology in the field,” they wrote.
Should companies wish to avoid GMOs, the researchers said there was scope to work with wild enzymes and use external approaches instead of genetic manipulations – methods like substrate promiscuity, catalytic promiscuity, and medium promiscuity that had already been studied in research labs for years.
Looking forward, the researchers said the impact of regulatory bodies on the future of white biotech in perfumery should also “not be underestimated”, considering the “difficult definition of naturality” which could, in the future, be limited to non-processed substances.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/cssc/202001661
Title: “Chemistry, sustainability and naturality of perfumery biotech ingredients”
Authors: M. Lecourt and Dr. S. Antoniotti